- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

President Clinton's Middle East peace plan, which calls for Israeli troops to pull out of the Jordan Valley, would leave Israel vulnerable to an attack by Iraq and Iran, a close aide to Israeli prime ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon said yesterday.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, issued his warning in Washington as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed peace talks in Taba, Egypt.

The talks went on despite the slaying of an Israeli driver who was shot in the head after dropping off a group of Palestinian laborers at a checkpoint near the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, Israeli television reported.

Mr. Gold said in Washington that the balance of forces in the Middle East had dramatically worsened since Israel and the Arabs first met at the 1991 Madrid peace conference organized by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Since then, he said:

• Iraq has escaped from U.N. weapons inspections and could be building conventional and non-conventional weapons.

• Iran has recovered from the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 and is building missiles with a range of 800 miles and developing weapons of mass destruction.

• Russia has recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and since 1996 has been selling missile technology to Iran and challenging U.S.-Israeli policies at the United Nations.

"The Middle East is a far more dangerous region than in 1991," said Mr. Gold, who is among Mr. Sharon's inner circle of advisers.

He rejected Mr. Clinton's peace proposal as a "recipe for disaster" because it called for Israel to pull its forces out of the Jordan Valley in three to six years without considering the growing power of Iran and Iraq.

"This is strategic insanity," Mr. Gold said.

If Israel evacuated the Jordan Valley, the only way to prevent the opening of an eastern front by Syria, Iraq and Iran would be for U.S. troops to be stationed in the Jordan Valley a deployment "which would not be supported by those who want U.S. troops out of Kosovo."

Republicans in Congress and in the Bush administration have said they want to reassess the deployment of U.S. troops in the Balkans and are generally reluctant to send U.S. forces to new overseas missions.

Mr. Gold said that the spirit of the Oslo peace process is "seriously questioned" by the violence that since September has left 318 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 43 Israeli Jews dead. But, he said, "the Oslo agreements need to be implemented."

According to the latest survey by the Gallup Organization, Mr. Sharon is ahead with 52 percent of the likely vote against 34 percent for Prime Minister Ehud Barak with just 12 days remaining before the election.

Mr. Gold said that a fundamental assumption of the 1993 Oslo peace accord that a peace deal with the Palestinians would mean Israeli peace with all Arab states "turned out not to be true."

"There was no permanent revolutionary change. When Israel hit the wall [in talks] with the Palestinians," the wider Arab-Israel peace "collapsed like a house of cards."

He said that permanent-status issues such as the future of Jerusalem were impossible to resolve at present and he called for Palestinians and Israelis to "create arrangements to allow us to live without solving our differences."

"We have to have contact. We have to talk and create arrangements for coexistence."

Mr. Gold said the U.S. role in the Middle East talks had been too intense under Mr. Clinton.

"The last couple of years we maxed out the U.S. role and didn't get results," Mr. Gold said. "Maybe we overused presidential power."

It may be better for the United States to hold back and let the parties work things out themselves sometimes, he said, although sometimes a U.S. presence is "necessary."

In Taba, a Palestinian official close to the negotiations said the sides had discussed land, refugees and security issues yesterday. But Mr. Barak said in Jerusalem that the chances of reaching a deal before Israel's Feb. 6 election were slim.

During a break in the talks at Taba, Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and senior Palestinian negotiators Yasser Abed Rabbo and Saeb Erekat were seen strolling onto a Red Sea pier.

They chatted, smiled and watched a double-masted boat manned by activists of Israel's Peace Now movement cruising offshore, along with two smaller boats carrying Sharon supporters.

Talks were to continue today.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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